April 27, 1967: The Cardinals got off to a fast start in 1967, winning their first six games, then splitting their next six games, before squaring off against the Houston Astros at the Astrodome. By contrast, the Astros had only won three out of their first eleven games that year, and seemed destined for another loss as Cards pitcher Bob Gibson was sailing along with a 2-0 lead through the first six innings.
Back-to-back fourth-inning triples by Mike Shannon and Tim McCarver, followed by a Bobby Tolan single gave the Redbirds their two-runs. Nowadays, a seventh-inning specialist would take over for a starter, followed by the eighth-inning guy, then if all goes well, the closer. Gibson never wanted to come out of any game; he took his turn at bat in the top of the seventh-inning, hit a two-out single, but was stranded on the bases. Needing nine more outs to record his fourth victory of the year, Gibson was unable to record even one more out. Two hits and a walk loaded the bases for Houston, which prompted manager Red Schoedienst to remove Gibby in favor of lefty Hal Woodeshick.
Things quickly went from bad to worse as future Hall of Famer Joe Morgan immediately cleared the bases with a triple, giving Houston a lead they would never relinquish. Woodeshick faced only one other batter, walked him, and was removed in favor of Nelson Briles, who successfully recorded one out, and was removed in favor of Joe Hoerner, who also got one guy out, and was removed in favor of Ron Willis, who got the final out of the seventh inning. When it was over, the Astros had scored five runs on four hits, two walks, and a sacrifice fly.
Schoendienst used two more pitchers to get through the eighth inning - journeyman Jim Cosman and 29-year-old rookie Dick Hughes, who at the time was a relatively unknown talent. By the time Hughes made ten relief appearances, which included three saves, he had impressed his manager enough to warrant a spot in the rotation. By season's end, Dick Hughes had started 27 games, completed twelve of them (three were shutouts), while working a total of 222.1 innings. His record of 16-6 featured an impressive 2.67 ERA and National League leading 0.954 WHIP. He was runner-up to the New York Mets' Tom Seaver for NL Rookie of the Year; but sadly, arm troubles would end his career early in the '68 season, at the age of 30.
In this game, the Cardinals tried to come back, scoring twice in the eighth, but Houston answered with a run of their own in the bottom half. That was enough, as Houston held on for a 6-4 win, handing Gibson (3-1) his first loss of the year, as starting pitcher Larry Dierker (2-1) earned the win.
The loss to the Astros started a four-game skid for the Redbirds, as they even fell out of first place for a while. In July, Gibson would go down with a broken leg, thanks to a vicious line drive off the bat of Roberto Clemente. Fortunately, he had mended by the time the regular season was winding down, and took care of business in the World Series triumph over the Boston Red Sox - winning three games and being named World Series MVP.
Of course, Gibson was just getting warmed up for '68, when he rewrote the record book en route to his first Cy Young Award to go along with his selection as NL MVP. Not only did Gibson establish a modern MLB record with a miniscule 1.12 ERA, he was never knocked out of a game in the midst of any inning all year long.